Anti-depressants could be very useful in HIV/AIDS as these drugs appear to enhance the immune function of natural killer (NK) cells, a new study has found.
A group of researchers had previously found that stress and depression impair NK cell function and accelerate the course of HIV/AIDS.
The functioning of natural killer (NK) cells, which are a major element of the innate immunity system and are involved in the body's first line of defense against infections such as HIV, is decreased in both HIV and depression.
The same group in the present study has suggested that the use of certain anti-depressant drugs may enhance NK cell activity thereby protecting against HIV/AIDS.
For the study the team recruited depressed and non-depressed HIV-infected women and studied the ex vivo effects of three drugs, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), a substance P antagonist, and a glucocorticoid antagonist, on their NK cell activity.
The scientists found that the SSRI citalopram, and the substance P antagonist increased NK cell activity.
"The present findings provide evidence that natural killer cell function in HIV infection may be enhanced by selective serotonin reuptake inhibition and also by substance P antagonism in both depressed and non-depressed individuals," said Dr. Dwight Evans, corresponding author of the article.
Dr. John H. Krystal, editor of Biological Psychiatry and affiliated with both Yale University School of Medicine and the VA Connecticut Healthcare System said that there has been growing evidence that the compromise of immune function associated with depression influences the outcomes of infectious diseases and cancer.
"Antidepressant treatments are beginning to be studied for their potential positive effects on immune function," he said
"The paper by Evans et al. suggests that antidepressant treatment may have positive effects on natural killer cell activity in cells isolated from individuals infected with HIV with and without depression," he added,
Dr. Evans said that the findings can pave way for initiating clinical studies addressing the potential role of serotonergic agents and substance P antagonists in improving natural killer cell innate immunity, possibly delaying HIV disease progression and extending survival with HIV infection.
The report appears in the May 1st issue of Biological Psychiatry.